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But few questioned Salinas, who drove around Houston in a black '06 Bentley and chartered a private jet to attend investors' basketball games. He donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to University of Houston athletics and sat on the search committee for a basketball coach that helped bring Willis Wilson to Rice in '92. (Wilson had an investment valued at $642,000 tied up in the scam.) Gregarious and magnetic, Salinas was renowned for his annual J. David Final Four parties: catered, meticulously planned networking events held for more than 10 years in the host city for coaches, athletic department administrators and friends. He rarely, if ever, attended the games. "I remember going to one [party]," says Marc Simpson, a former volunteer coach with Houston Select, "and just being in awe at all the college coaches that were there"—about 75 in all.
Salinas first gained entrée to NCAA coaching circles in the late 1980s. As a booster for the Rice athletic department, he became friendly with Thompson and began attending Final Fours with the Owls staff. "I'm shocked and surprised, like everyone else," says Thompson, whose J. David investment was worth $65,000. A few years later Salinas started Houston Select, which, as it became more prominent over the years, brought him in further contact with coaches who were on the recruiting trail.
The duped investors ranged from national figures (Texas Tech's Billy Gillispie, Baylor's Scott Drew, Gonzaga's Mark Few) to assistants (Gonzaga's Ray Giacoletti) to NBA players (Warriors forward Ekpe Udoh, a Baylor alum, and former Wizards swingman Cartier Martin, a Houston Select player before going to Kansas State). "[Salinas] was a close friend and somebody I thought we could trust," says a college basketball coach who invested in the bonds. "The hardest part for me is knowing I was deceived for so long." Adds Jim Hicks, a Houston-area scouting service director, "It's all kind of like your mama telling you there's no Santa Claus."
Even Chris Peden, the chief financial officer for Select Asset Management, felt the same sense of shock. "We didn't scrutinize David because of the influential people around him," says Peden. "He'd done this for over 20 years. These people had vetted him, so we felt we didn't need to." Now, for all the coaches who invested, a new, very different question arises: How much will the NCAA scrutinize them?
"Dear Mr. Salinas: The financial support was very much appreciated, but it was not the most important thing. You stand for many qualities that we try to instill in Jawann.... You are a man of your word."
—The parents of former Arizona and Houston Select guard Jawann McClellan
Salinas formed Houston Select because he wanted to build a team for his son Chris, who aspired to a college career. But Salinas, who had no real background in basketball, was soon consumed by the endeavor. As an example of his expanding connections among college coaches, Salinas met with then Arizona coach Lute Olson to copy the Wildcats' motion offense for the Select playbook. He installed defensive schemes and Princeton-style inbounds plays, and would stalk the sideline all in black except for white sneakers, often getting ejected. ("Shame on you, ref!" he'd yell.) His program began to hum, developing Division I players and winning national tournaments, including the 1995 Nike prep championship in Las Vegas.
Before long, says Jack James, a long-serving Select volunteer and the father of a former player, "David was the person you could trust to make sure your son became a man and got a college scholarship." Salinas would lecture his players—often publicly, often furiously—about the importance of being on time, treating women with respect and "playing like a thug, but living like a gentleman."
Generosity was Salinas's most talked-about quality. Canvass former players and coaches for Salinas stories, and the phrase you're most likely to hear is, "I don't know if this was legal, but ..." followed by a story of an act of compassion, invariably to a family who lived in a rough neighborhood like Houston's Fifth Ward. Salinas not only bought groceries for players; he also bought families refrigerators. He not only hired tutors for struggling kids; he also hired their lawyers during legal scrapes. He not only paid for eventual Auburn guard DeWayne Reed to go to night school in order to get NCAA-qualified; he also paid one of Select's volunteer coaches, who was in need of a job, to drive Reed to and from his classes. During AAU tournaments in Southern California, Salinas would give his kids $20 each and set them loose on the Santa Monica Pier. He bought some players their school clothes. Says former Gonzaga guard Demetri Goodson, who transferred to Baylor to play football this fall, "I looked up to David ever since I've known him."
When the news of Salinas's suicide and the financial scandal broke, though, these cherished relationships sparked suspicion. No NCAA bylaw prohibits university representatives from investing in ostensibly legitimate securities. But at least 10 Select players since 1997 have committed to schools that were employing a current or eventual Salinas bondholder. In the murky world of college recruiting, it could be perceived as a conflict of interest for an AAU manager to be investing money for coaches who could sign his team's players.